BIMP-EAGA wrong economic partner, says NEDA chief

Secretary Romulo Neri, National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) chief, said the sub-region — composed of Brunei-Darrusalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines — groups the four countries’ poor regions.

"It is good for public relations with the three other neighboring countries, but there is really not much for Mindanao in the BIMP-EAGA," he said.

"BIMP-EAGA is equally poor as we are. There is not much trade or investment we can expect," he said.

The sub-region growth area, launched in March 1994, was patterned after the success of the growth area concept in several sub-regions in Asia.

Around 13 areas were initially considered in the BIMP-EAGA economic cooperation scheme. According to a report from the Asian Development Bank, the fundamental goal of BIMP-EAGA is to realize equitable and sustainable economic development based on high value-added agro-industry, natural resources-based manufacturing, and high-grade tourism.

Based on a 2002 report of the ADB, the BIMP-EAGA was a dynamic and active sub-regional initiative during the early years of its inception.

The ADB made a study aimed to help mobilize the potential of sub-regional economic cooperation for the development of BIMP-EAGA, highlighting the EAGA profile, setting up short- and long-term development visions and strategies, and developing a framework for implementation and monitoring.

Along with other important findings, the study indicated that there were "significant investment opportunities based on latent economic complementation and other forms of regional economic cooperation." It also provided a list of investment and trade project proposals.

However, the report said, the implementation of the proposals in the study received a setback from the Asian economic crisis that began in 1997 and the El Niño phenomenon that hit most of the sub-region in 1998.

The report also cited changes in political leaderships and growing concerns of security, peace, and order in some of the BIMP-EAGA member countries.

Neri said there is no complementation in the BIMP-EAGA with the absence of a "model economy" where the other areas could draw investments.

He said that instead of the BIMP-EAGA, the focus should be with China, Korea, Japan and Australia where better air connectivity should be established to usher in more trading.

He said the country could ship products — goods like agricultural commodities and fresh fish — to the four countries.

The NEDA chief named the four countries as the "natural trading partners" of Davao and Mindanao.

He said he is inclined to push for regulatory reforms to ensure that hard infrastructure already put up in Mindanao will be used at the optimum.

He cited the need to liberalize the country's airline policy so airlines from other countries will come. He said "open-skies" policy should not be limited to the BIMP-EAGA players.

He cited Davao City's beautiful and spacious airport which only serves very few international flights.

Neri said side by side with the infrastructure investment is the need to reform the country's regulatory policies.

Opening Davao's airport to more international flights, he said, would mean one million additional tourists to the city and the rest of Mindanao.

He said products for export could also be more competitive with the upcoming upgrade of farm-to-market roads as outlined in President Arroyo's state of the nation address to convert Mindanao as an agri-business super region.

Neri attended with Australian Ambassador Tony Hely a forum of development partners of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) at the Waterfront Hotel here.

Councilor Peter Laviña, chair of the city council’s trade and commerce committee, said he was elated over Neri's pronouncement.

Laviña said the BIMP-EAGA areas are the poor sections of the four countries comprising the sub-region. He said not one of the areas is a "model economy" who plays as big brother.

Laviña said economies in other sub-region growth areas in East Asia grew fast because of the presence of a model economy.

He cited the case of Singapore for the growth area in Johore, Malaysia and Bitam, Indonesia; and the case of Hong Kong for the growth area in Southern China.

He said there is no such economy from which the BIMP-EAGA could draw investments and trade.

Laviña echoed Neri’s call to increase trade with the four more economically advanced countries.

He said economic integration should be at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) level where there are model economies like Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.